Numbering our days on New Year’s Eve

From John Piper:

For me, the end of a year is like the end of my life. And 11:59 p.m will be like the moment of my death. The 365 days are like a miniature lifetime. And these final days are like the last hours in the hospital after the doctor has told me that the end is very near. And in these last hours, the lifetime of the year passes before my eyes and I face the inevitable question: Did I live it well? Will Jesus Christ, the righteous judge, say “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

I feel very fortunate that this is the way my year ends. And I pray that, at least for this morning, the year’s end might have the same significance for you. The reason I feel fortunate is that it is a great advantage to have a trial run at my own dying. It is a great benefit to rehearse once a year in preparation for the last scene of your life. It is a great benefit because the morning of January 1 will find most of us alive, at the brink of a whole new lifetime, able to start fresh all over again.

Teach Us to Number Our Days Teach Us to Number Our Days

The great thing about rehearsals is that they show you where your weaknesses are, where your preparation was faulty; and they leave you time to change before the real play. I suppose for some of you the thought of dying is so morbid, so gloomy, so fraught with grief and pain that you do your best to keep it out of your minds, especially during holidays. I think that is unwise and that you do yourself a great disservice. For I have found that there are few things more revolutionizing for my life than a periodic pondering of my own death. How do you get a heart of wisdom so as to know how best to live? The psalmist answers:

Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and withers. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:5, 6, 12)

Numbering your days simply means remembering that your life is short and your dying will be soon. Great wisdom—great, life-revolutionizing wisdom—comes from periodically pondering these things.

Part of that life-changing wisdom that comes from numbering our days is humility and yieldedness to the sovereignty of God. James wrote to an arrogant group of people among the churches and said,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

If we run away from the truth that we are a mist that appears a moment and then vanishes, if we try to keep this from our minds, then we will become arrogant and presumptuous. We will feel that we are the masters of our days and forget that every moment of life is owing to the free and sovereign will of God: “If the Lord wills, we shall live.”

But, if we do not run away from this truth and instead, at least once a year (for myself it must be much more often), imagine that our death is near, then we will be humbled and moved to yield ourselves to God more fully and filled with a practical wisdom for how to live.

From Desiring God
Read/Listen to the whole talk here at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/i-have-kept-the-faith

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Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas- the origins of Father Christmas

For those interested in the origins of Santa….read on!

DailyInkling.com

I’m taking a little deviation from our ‘A-Z of inspiring women’ series, as it seems only fitting on Christmas Eve to give you the low-down on the man about to slide down your chimney. As you dust off your stockings and prepare milk and cookies for jolly red man, ponder on his journey to be one of the most recognised characters in the world.

DI_santa_01

Santa starts his many incarnations as Saint Nicholas- a 4th-century Greek bishop living in Byzantium (modern-day Turkey). He is credited with many miracles, hence his sainthood, but is remembered most for his generosity. Throughout his life he helped those downtrodden by life, giving away money and presents to those in need.

DI_santa_05

He died on December 6th, 343 AD, and traditionally his saint’s day is commemorated by gift-giving on that day.

The Dutch name for Saint Nick- ‘Sinter Klaas’ is the origin of our corruption to ‘Santa…

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This Special Place, Where it is Always Christmas

Love this Christmas post….why we need Christmas! The promise of the Gospel is: it’s always Christmas.

Broken Believers

“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas. To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”

–Kevin Van Hoozer

Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues.  The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.

Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is…

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The Story behind the most famous Christmas carol

joy to the wJoy To The World (by Robert D. Kalis)

Our Christmas season would hardly seem complete without the singing of Joy to the World, the most joyous of the carols. Yet Isaac Watts, its author, never intended it to be a Christmas carol at all. Rather, it was a part of his Psalms of David Imitated, published in 1719, which contained paraphrases of many of the Psalms in New Testament language.

The story of the hymn, Joy to the World, is the story of the author, Isaac Watts (1675-1748), who is universally acknowledged as “The Father of English Hymnody”. He has earned the title, not because he was first to write English hymns, but because he gave impetus to hymnody and established its place in the worship of the English church.

For over one hundred years, congregational singing had been strictly limited to the Psalms of the Old Testament in poetic form. Many of these rhymed Psalms were so unnatural that Samuel Wesley, father of the famous brothers Charles and John, called them “scandalous doggerel,” and his opinion was shared by many.

The birth of Isaac Watts to a dissenting deacon and the daughter of a Huguenot refugee was followed by fourteen years of persecution and hardships for the entire family. Perhaps this suffering was responsible for Isaac Watts’ ill health, for he grew only to a height of just over five feet and was weak and sickly all his life.

Though weak in body, the boy was strong in mind and spirit and early in life showed promise of poetic capability. After one Sunday morning service, Isaac, then fifteen years old, complained of the atrocious worship in song. One of the deacons challenged him: “Give us something better, young man.” His answer was ready for the evening service and was sung that night in the Independents’ meeting, Southampton, where his father was pastor. Perhaps a hint of things to come was contained in this first verse of Isaac Watts:

Behold the glories of the Lamb Amidst His Father’s throne; Prepare new honors for His name, And songs before unknown.

When Isaac began to preach several years later, his congregation sang the songs that seemed to flow from his pen like a river. In 1707, the accumulation of eighteen years was published under the title, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. The river continued to flow, and in 1719 his “Psalms of David Imitated” was published, not as a new paraphrase of David, but as an imitation of him in New Testament language. It was as though the Psalms burst forth in their fulfillment at last.

watts-sacred_poemsJoy to the World is the “imitation” of the last half of Psalm 98. The author transformed the old Jewish psalm of praise for some historic deliverance into a Christian song of rejoicing for the salvation of God that began to be manifested when the Babe of Bethlehem came “to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found.” This is one of the most joyous hymns in all Christendom because it makes so real what Christ’s birth means to all mankind.

The tune to which the hymn is sung is attributed to George Frederick Handel and bears resemblance to phrases of his great oratorio, Messiah. Notably the first four tones match the beginning of the chorus, “Lift Up Your Heads.”

As we rejoice in the coming to earth of our Savior, we may also be glad for the veritable river of hymns that flowed from the pen of Isaac Watts. His name stands at the head of our most majestic hymns, notably, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” In many hymnals more hymns of Isaac Watts are to be found than of any other single author.

http://www.joy-bringer-ministries.org/hymn1.html

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More carols with the Piano Guys – and the cellos

The Carol of the Bells

 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And here are the immensely rich lyrics of this hymn, for your advent contemplation! I’ve included all the verses (though I’m sure I’ve only ever sung 4 or 5 of the 8 included here). Scroll down to the end of the lyrics for more information about the origins and themes of this carols (which is immensely under-rated I fear).

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Refrain

NB: The Words were com­bined from var­i­ous an­ti­phons by an un­known au­thor, pos­si­bly in the 12th Cen­tu­ry (Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by John M. Neale, Med­iae­val Hymns, 1851. Neale’s orig­in­al trans­l­a­tion be­gan, “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Em­man­u­el.”

Music: Veni Em­man­u­el, from a 15th Cen­tu­ry pro­cess­ion­al of French Fran­cis­can nuns (the set­ting for the fu­ner­al hymn Libera me); ar­ranged by Thom­as Hel­more in the Hymn­al Not­ed, Part II (Lon­don: 1856) (MI­DI, score).

The lyrics echo a num­ber of pro­phet­ic themes. The ti­tle comes from the well known Isai­ah 7:14: “Be­hold, a vir­gin shall con­ceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Im­man­u­el.” Im­man­u­el is He­brew for “God with us.” The “Rod of Jesse” refers to Isai­ah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jes­se”; Jesse was the fa­ther of Da­vid, se­cond king of Is­ra­el. “Day-Spring” comes from Za­cha­ri­as, fa­ther of John the Bap­tist, in Luke 1:78: “The day­spring from on high has vis­it­ed us.” “Thou Key of Da­vid” is in Isai­ah 22:22: “The key of the house of Da­vid will I lay up­on his shoul­der,” which in turn re­fers to Isai­ah 9:6 “The gov­ern­ment shall be up­on His shoul­der.”

The Piano Guys Will Blow You Away With ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ (VIDEO)

Watch this astounding and innovative arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” performed on ONE single piano by THE PIANO GUYS, Paul Anderson, Jon Schmidt, Al van der Beek and Steven Sharp Nelson. It involves 32 fingers, 8 thumbs, and a few voices.

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4373673?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009&ir=Religion

Christmas celebrates Christ’s victory

This post comes courtesy of The Blazing Center, and is brilliant explanation of what we are celebrating! Merry Christmas!

Jesus is for people who hate Christmas

christmasSometimes I think my heart is two times too small.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do like Christmas. I like getting together with my family to open presents and sit around the tree and watch reruns of Seinfeld and The Andy Griffith Show. I’m happy when it snows on Christmas. I like seeing tastefully decorated houses. Heck, I even like some Christmas music (don’t get me started on “Mary Did You Know?”).

But Christmas often brings out the gloomy side of me as well. I’m reminded of one of my favorite families who, because of cancer, no longer has a dad around the house. I’m reminded of some of my favorite people who, after many years of patiently waiting, are still single. I’m reminded of my sister, who has been dealing with migraine headaches for years without much relief. I’m reminded of my own ongoing battles with intense physical anxiety.

After the tree is down and the wrapping paper put away and the music silenced and the egg nog polished off, all the problems still remain. I think one of the reasons we cling so tightly to Christmas is that it helps us forget about our problems for awhile. For a few, brief days, everything seems as it should be. We long for a white Christmas because the snow covers up all the mud and muck.

My propensity toward Christmas gloom is one of the reasons I am so grateful for Jesus. Not in a “Jesus is the reason for the season,” kind of way, but in a, “Jesus is a holy warrior,” kind of way.

This morning I was reading in Matthew 8-9. In these chapters Jesus cleanses a leper, heals a centurion’s servant, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, calms a storm, drives demons out of two raving madmen, heals a paralytic, raises a girl from the dead, heals two blind men, and heals a man who is unable to speak. In the comments section of The Gospel Transformation Bible it says:

Wherever Jesus goes he brings the reign of God, and where God reigns, the invisible powers of the universe in rebellion against him are banished and left powerless to do anyone ultimate harm…Since believers are united with Christ, they share Christ’s victory over evil.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true meaning of Christmas. Wherever Jesus goes he brings the reign of God! Christmas is ultimately about the kingdom of God coming to this sad, broken, sin-marred world. Christmas is ultimately about a baby who would grow into a mighty warrior – a warrior who would crush Satan, undo sadness, defeat death, and ensure that it would be always Christmas and never winter.

Listen closely. For just a moment, tune out the Christmas music and television commercials. Do you hear that slow creaking and cracking noise? It’s the sound of Satan’s skull being slowly crushed underneath the foot of our conquering Savior. Now we suffer. Now we experience cancer and migraines and anxiety and singleness and sadness and loneliness and poverty. Now we are afflicted by sin and Satan and our flesh. But not always.

Ultimately, Christmas should give the most hope to those who hate Christmas. Things won’t always be this way. As it says in 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Those are such sweet words. Christmas is a celebration of war! Jesus himself has declared open season on Satan. He came to destroy all the works of the evil one. He came to wipe away tears and heal broken bodies and lift up despondent hearts and drive out fear and destroy loneliness.

If you’re feeling gloomy, take heart. Jesus is for those who hate Christmas.

Snowflakes – who knew?

macro-photography-snowflakes-alexey-kljatov-2While the Southern Hemisphere swelters in humidity and great overdoses of sunshine, our friends in the North get to enjoy a spectacular reminder of our Creator’s intricate designs. These snowflakes are magnificent – though at times I suppose they can cause chaos and lots of work. Whether you are neck deep in snow, or not, I’m sure you’ll enjoy these macro snowflake images!

“As fascinating as macro photography is, most of us think we can’t do it because it requires specialized equipment. Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov, however, is an inspiration to aspiring amateur photographers everywhere – he created a home-made rig capable of capturing stunning close-up pictures of snowflakes out of old camera parts, boards, screws and tape. His pictures give us an enchanting close-up view of snowflakes that we could never hope for without specialized equipment.

The wonderful thing about snowflakes is that no two are alike. Their extraordinary diversity diversity stems from the many small changes in temperature and humidity that they experience while freezing on their way down to the ground. Their six-sided symmetry occurs because the crystalline structure of ice is also hexagonal. All of these many factors come together to create beautiful shapes that are almost always unique.

Kljatov’s rig creates the sort of photos that might otherwise require lenses or other equipment worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. And the pictures he creates with this rig look absolutely amazing. For more information about how he did it, check out his blog post.

Stunning Close-Ups of Snowflakes by Alexey Kljatov

The beauty of His humble birth

away-in-a-manger-king-size-bed-jesus“Some people tell us that we need to have beautiful homes in order to draw people to Christ. They say that our beautiful home is analogous to God’s beauty…they obviously have forgotten the manger, a squalling infant covered in amniotic fluid and blood, wrapped in coarse rags, and the bleeding and bruised naked man hanging on a cross. It’s his beauty, not our homemaking skills that draws a heart to love and worship.”

Elyse Fitzpatrick

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

Star-over-Bethlehem“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2) 

John Piper writes: “Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.”

(http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/bethlehem-s-supernatural-star)

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